World of skinhead 20 years on: Why it really is a work of Art

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This was England?

It’s hard looking back at this film now not just decades later but in a different century. Because World of skinhead came out of an era when broadcasters still actually trusted filmmakers to make films rather than just provide content for ideas and editorials, dreamt up by dazed-and-confused TV Executives and their brand managers with very little real-life experience and made by folk with PhD’s in Lifestyle film-making/factual entertainment who mostly hate anyone who is poor, white and working/under class. When World of skinhead was commissioned back in 1994 – and despite the panic from within channel 4’s legal department that they were giving money away to fascists – we were pretty much left alone to go out on a journey in the world to make our film, even though our Production company: Pictorial Heroes didn’t come from the usual North London/BBC/Oxbridge documentary making tradition. While equally the way we made the film was groundbreaking at the time in its hybrid use of Super 8/16mm film stock, telecine-grading and the kind of small-format camcorders which are now the common place tools of every filmmaker.

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My 35 year-old Dr Martins

Coming as I had done from a council housing estate in the 1970s, I saw World of skinhead as a chance to set the record-straight about a much maligned and hijacked youth sub-cult. I’d grown up surrounded by the punk and skinhead scene and knew that its roots lay in a love-affair between white working class youth and black Jamaican music, rather than in the white-power nazi bonehead stereotypes  beloved of the mainstream media,who still see skinheads as a source of fear/fascination and fetishism at the same. And as well as having something important to say about the working classes, race-relations, style, music and politics, World of skinhead above everything else was a portrait of the beauty of youth. As for its rough and ready street style, I stand by a claim I made at the time that it’s as experimental and transgressive as anything being made by the art world elite or the London avant-garde film scene and boy – for the most part – did they all hate World of skinhead! So I guess I do consider World of skinhead a work of Art and as a portrait of the lost sweat of youth, caught in a moment at the end of the 20th century, rather than as just another piece of ‘Yoof TV’ that somehow got lost in the noise and garbage, or that was commissioned decades later as a sound-bite for Fred Perry!

Now- in a different century – the skinhead style and love of Jamaican music that can be found in World of skinhead is everywhere. And while some of the youth who appear in the film were once found out on the angry margins of an austere UK society in their boots, braces and Fred Perry’s are now part of the mainstream, many, many more are probably lost to this world. Equally – and even though they’ll deny it to this day – World of skinhead was also a significant influence on Shane Meadow’s film This is England We never did see a penny in royalties from that particular films Producers – nor from channel 4 – for their use of some of the more iconic imagery from our film in their opening montage. But even more important, neither did we receive an acknowledgement or even a thanks for the use of a fellow filmmaker’s art, imagery and inspiration. In total contrast however – and this always brings a big smile to my face – if you Google search: World of skinhead, you’ll come across hundreds of pirate copies of the film, which I guess means that it has gone viral and become something of a revered youth sub-cult collectors piece.Finally I can’t finish this post without mentioning George Marshall, the skinhead writer and publisher who became a good friend during filming, and who trusted us to enter into his world to film with him, and the films editor/Producer Allan Robertson who is probably asking the same question as I am doing now from a pub in Belgrade:

Where did we all go wrong?

Because World of skinhead certainly got it right.